My family, when we were together over Christmas. I reminded them it’s only my first book; what did they expect?
If you could read your book to anyone in the world, who would it be?
My grandmother, if she were still living. We would sit at her kitchen table and I’d read to her, short bits, just as she used to dictate to me. For years, I was her scrivener. One afternoon every week, I wrote letters for her. She had terrible arthritis and it pained her to write.
Did she serve you cookies and Cheerwine?
Yes. Soft cookies, because she had trouble with her dentures. She kept a big box of lemon crème sandwich cookies in her oven (that was all she used the oven for, to store cookies) with the cellophane cover slit open so that the cookies could air out, get stale and soft.
Describe her kitchen table.
A drop-leaf maple table. Cane-bottomed chairs.
How did she protect the finish on the tabletop?
With a flannel-backed oilcloth covered by a cotton tablecloth covered by vinyl placemats covered by sheets of wax paper covered by paper towels. Whenever I took a bite of cookie or a sip of Cheerwine she’d remind me to “hold over.”
Do you think she’d like your book?
I think she’d enjoy having me in her kitchen again, eating cookies and being mindful of crumbs. I think she’d like the fact that I’ve written a book. I think she’d enjoy being read to. Of course, I might have to leave some parts out. The book has sex and drugs and rock-n-roll and some indelicate language.
Tell me more.
Byrd is the story of Addie Lockwood, a single woman who, in her 30s, gives birth to a son, her only child, and surrenders him for adoption in secret, without telling her family or even the baby’s father, and without imagining how her choices will affect others or, ultimately, herself.
Does the child’s father have a voice in the book?
Roland Rhodes—yes, he does. He’s a big part of the story; so is his family; so is Addie’s. The structure of the book—short chapters and vignettes from different points of view interspersed with Addie’s letters to her child—is one that allows the reader to see the ripple effects of Addie’s decisions.
What three questions are you most often asked about this novel?
One, is it autobiographical? (No.) Two, is it a reunion story? (You’ll have to read it.) And three, how long did you spend writing it? (Ten years, off and on—five on the first draft, five more after I started over.)
How did you work for so long without losing interest?
The characters kept me going. They became real for me; they engaged and amused and upset and surprised me. They also changed as I wrote—Addie especially. Her story is about learning to make and live with hard choices. For her, that’s a gradual, often painful process. I went through a similar process as I wrote. Writing a novel, particularly a first novel, can be a tough exercise in self-acceptance. You have to let go of a lot of stuff—perfectionism, doubt, fear of failure, fear of exposure. That letting-go can take a while. Learning who you are as a writer can take a while.
I identified with my characters in other ways, too. I’ve never been in Addie’s situation or had to face her choices, but I know how it feels to wrestle with the decision over motherhood. Addie’s fears and uncertainty and second-guessing have personal resonance for me.
Do you have a favorite minor character in the book?
Warren Finch, the astrologer. A soothsayer in plaid.
You were middle-aged when you started writing fiction. Do you ever regret that you didn’t start sooner?
To everything, turn, turn, turn. My writing season has come, and I’m grateful. I have no regrets about the seasons that came before—though I do sometimes get sad that so many people who supported and inspired me are now gone and I won’t be able to share this book with them.
When your grandmother dictated correspondence, did she ever ask you to insert emoticons?
She died long before there were emoticons. But she did have a signal for humor. When she was joking but worried her tone wouldn’t be clear from the text, she’d say, “Better put a ‘ha!’ after that.”
Did you ever insert “ha!”s where she didn’t tell you to, after things she didn’t intend to be funny?
Sometimes, in her letters to my Aunt Helen. I knew Helen would understand which “ha!”s were me, privately winking at her.
Your grandmother didn’t proofread?
No. She trusted me.
In one word, what advice would you give to new writers?
KIM CHURCH is the author of a novel, Byrd (Dzanc Books, March 2014), as well as short stories and poetry appearing in Shenandoah, Painted Bride Quarterly, Mississippi Review, the Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, and elsewhere. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has received fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Millay Colony for the Arts, and Vermont Studio Center. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband, artist Anthony Ulinski. Visit her online at www.kimchurch.com.